Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

Beyond Six-Pack Abs: 5 Exercises for More Control With Complex Movement

Rock-solid six-pack abs may be alluring. But having them doesn't guarantee you the core strength to support ballet's complex movements, like coordinated pirouettes and controlled extensions. That abdominal strength lies much deeper—and requires more subtle work than crunches. One good place to start, says Erika Kalkan, PT, DPT, OCS, who works with dancers in New York City, Sag Harbor and Los Angeles, is by learning to engage the transversus abdominis. As the deepest abdominal muscle, its fibers wrap around the waist and pelvic area to the lower back, like a corset that can be cinched by drawing the belly button in. "When active, the transversus abdominis narrows the waist and flattens the abdomen," says Kalkan, "and it begins to stabilize the spine before movement of the arms or legs occurs."

The deep abdominals and other muscles of the core, like the lumbar multifidus, pelvic floor and diaphragm, are particularly important for ballet dancers with extreme flexibility in their spine and hips, says Kalkan. When these core muscles are properly engaged, they help prevent injury and stabilize the body to give you better support in your extensions and turns.


Strengthening this area, however, won't feel like a typical ab workout. "These muscles can be difficult to find because they won't give the sensation of burning when exercised," she says. When the transversus abdominis is engaged, Kalkan says, you can locate it by wrapping your thumbs and fingers around your waist and resting the fingertips between the pelvic bones (as shown at left). If you feel a gentle tension along the inner edges of the pelvis, you're using the muscle. Kalkan recommends the following exercises, which can be done daily, to build deep abdominal strength. But be patient: "This work requires focus," she says, "and slow, gentle activation."


Abdominal Hollowing

Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

1. Kneel on all fours, and let your stomach completely relax and fall toward the floor. Kalkan suggests working next to a mirror, so you can make sure you're maintaining a flat back throughout the exercise.


Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

2. Using a long exhale, draw the abdominals in toward the spine—you can even make a soft "ha" sound as you exhale. Hold for 10 seconds and continue breathing normally before relaxing the belly. Do 10 reps. As you get stronger, gradually increase the duration of the contraction to 20 or 30 seconds.


Contracting on the Floor

Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

2. Use the breath to slowly draw the belly button in, keeping a neutral pelvis. Imagine that you're zipping up tight jeans and must pull your belly in to do so, says Kalkan. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds before releasing. Do 10 reps.

Try These Variations:

Once you're familiar with the sensation of engaging the transversus abdominis, challenge yourself by integrating more movement. Each uses the same starting position as above and can be done for 10–20 reps.

Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

Slowly drop one knee open as far you can while keeping the opposite hip down. Return it to the starting position and alternate legs.

Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

Lift and lower one foot at a time slightly off the floor, taking small marching steps.

Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

Flex one foot and slide the heel along the floor until the leg is straight. Draw it back in and continue switching legs.

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How to Support the Black Dance Community, Beyond Social Media

The dance community's response to the death of George Floyd was immediate and sweeping on social media. Dance artists, including Desmond Richardson and Martha Nichols, used their social platforms to make meaningful statements about racial inequality. Theresa Ruth Howard's leadership spurred ballet companies including Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre, and New York City Ballet to pledge #BalletRelevesForBlackLives. Among the most vocal supporters have been dance students, who continue to share the faces and gut-wrenching last words of Black men and women who have died in police custody on their Instagram feeds and Stories.

The work we're doing on social media as a community is important and necessary—and we should keep at it. But now, that momentum must also carry us into taking action. Because to be a true ally, action is required.

A responsible ally amplifies Black voices­­. They choose to listen rather than speak. And they willingly throw their support, and, if they can, their dollars, behind Black dancers and Black dance organizations. Here are some ways you can do your part.

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Class of 2020, These Ballet Stars Have a Heartfelt Video Message Just for You

Congratulations to this year's graduating seniors!

You might not have had the chance to take that long planned-for final bow, but we're here to cheer you on and celebrate all that you've accomplished. And we've brought together stars from across the ballet world to help us; check out the video to hear their best wishes for your futures.

To further fête all of the ballet grads out there, we're also giving away 100 free subscriptions to Pointe... plus, one lucky bunhead will receive a personalized message from one of ballet's biggest stars. Click here to enter!


Tulsa Ballet in Ma Cong's Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music. Kate Luber Photography, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Updated: Mark Your Calendars for These Online Ballet Performances

Updated on 5/27/2020

Since COVID-19 has forced ballet companies around the world to cancel performances—and even the remainder of their seasons—many are keeping their audiences engaged by streaming or posting pre-recorded performances onto their websites or social media channels. To help keep you inspired during these challenging times, we've put together a list of upcoming streaming events and digital performances.

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